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“Moving the Goalposts” – guest post by Kate Atherley

Not all repeats are tidy. I love complicated cable patterns that create all-over cabled fabrics, but there can be some “jiggery pokery” required at the edges of the repeats, to create a seamless effect.

For example, look at this cable pattern, taken from Barbara Walker’s book of Charted Knitting Patterns (the yellow one!).

Chart showing cable pattern

Across 28 stitches, there is a clearly a pattern repeat, but if I wanted to make the chart simpler, there isn’t an obvious place to put the borders. Because there are cables worked across the entire patterned area, you have to offset the repeat.

Cable chart with red boxed repeat

Although this might seem like a minor detail for a pattern this size, finding and setting chart repeats is a big help for both the designer and the knitter. Imagine that this pattern is worked over the body of a sweater, over 84 stitches. The designer isn’t going to want to have to create or include the full chart in the pattern – it would be huge, and have to be split across multiple pages to make it legible.

Very wide knitting chart

And the knitter isn’t going to want to work from such a large chart. The larger the chart, the more difficult it is to follow. A repeat helps make the chart easier to follow, and also makes it easier to see the big picture of what you’re knitting. A 20-stitch chart with a repeat box for an 84-stitch row makes it clear that the pattern is consistent across. An 84-stitch chart for an 84-stitch row will leave the knitter with the impression that it’s significantly more complicated than it is.

And the same thing applies for written instructions, too, of course. Why make the rows so long if you don’t need to?

If you look at the first few rows of the written instructions for the original version of the chart, the full 28-stitch version, something interesting becomes obvious.

Twisty Cable Pattern
Row 1 (RS): (P4, k4) x 3, p4. (28 sts)
Row 2 (WS): (K4, p4) x 3, k4. 
Row 3: (P4, 2/2 RC) x 3, p4. 
Row 4: Repeat row 2. 
Rows 5 - 8: Repeat rows 1 - 4. 
Row 9: P2, (2/2 RPC, 2/2 LPC) x 3, p2. 
Row 10: K2, p2, (k4, p4) x 2, k4, p2, k2. 
Row 11: P2, k2, (p4, 2/2 LC) x 2, p4, k2, p2. 
Row 12: Repeat row 10. 
Row 13: P2, (2/2 LPC, 2/2 RPC) x 3, p2. 
Row 14: Repeat row 2.

The repeat in the written instructions doesn’t match the repeat I’ve set myself. Indeed, Stitchmastery found the more elegant, easier repeat.

(When creating a complex chart, I will often have a look at the written instructions that Stitchmastery generates, to see if there’s an obvious repeat that I can create; and if it’s a chart with a repeat already, I’ll have a look to see if there’s a tidier way to group stitches.)

Back to our example: the repeats in the charts don’t match the repeats in the written instructions. Does that matter? As I wrote about in an earlier column, I feel strongly that you should – where practical – include both charts and written instructions for pattern stitches. When it makes sense, and where it’s tidy, I do try to make the repeats match.

Look at this version of the chart, though, where the border lines correspond to the repeats in the written instructions.

Cable chart with different repeat box

Visually, it’s unnecessarily complicated. The reason the repeat works in the written instructions is that it brackets up easily memorized bits. It’s easier to remember and work (p4, k4) than (p2, k4, p2).

But this means that the repeat borders are shifting a lot more often. In this case, I would strive to keep both tidy, without worrying about whether they match. Tidier instructions and charts are easier to understand, easier to work and easier to memorize.

The problem exists in the opposite direction, too: if I generate the written instructions for the chart where I created a tidy repeat, the written instructions are a mess. Not only do you not have not-easily-memorized repeats, you’ve got “extra” repeats that aren’t grouped.

Row 1 (RS): P2, (p2, k4, p2) x 2, p2, k4, p4.

There’s an extra repeat in there. This is much tidier:

Row 1 (RS): P2, (p2, k4, p2) x 3, p2.

Now, this is a more advanced pattern stitch. For a more beginner-friendly one, however, I would be more inclined to make them match. I hear regularly from knitters just coming to grips with charts that they like being able to refer back and forth between the two versions of the instructions.

There’s a special case of this problem: when the cable crosses run over the start of the round, for a hat or sock or other in-the-round project. I’ll discuss that in my next column.

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